[Image Courtesy of NO SLEEP Records, 2013]
Balance and Composure
The Things We Think We’re Missing
No Sleep Records, 2013.
by Chad Jewett
If you’re of a certain age and inclination, then you recall a time when the Foo Fighters were once one-half Sunny Day Real Estate. Dave Grohl re-recorded the drums for The Colour and the Shape, replacing William Goldsmith’s initial tracks (Goldsmith subsequently left the band) and thus leaving the “Sunny Day” era of the Foo Fighters undocumented. I raise this missed opportunity mainly as a way of pinpointing exactly what makes Balance and Composure’s new album, The Things We Think We’re Missing, so riveting a listen. Combining the loud-quiet-loud angularity of Diary with the heft of Colour, the record fills a lack that only becomes apparent in retrospect. That Brad Wood, who produced Sunny Day Real Estate’s debut, mixed The Things We Think We’re Missing is both a happy coincidence and a promising sign that Balance and Composure know what parts of their sound need capturing the most. The album delivers on that promise.
“Parachutes,” “Lost Your Name,” and “Tiny Raindrop,” all in the album’s first half, trade in a muscular tunefulness that has largely gone missing in the current emo revival (as has this thorough a commitment to sounding great). “Lost Your Name” pulls off a nifty trick in its first verse, layering screams beneath melodies for a sort of barbed harmony, contrasting with its lovely descending chorus. Likely this has been done before, but I can’t recall it done this well, or with this much purpose. The album excels in its ability to find a more poignant musicality in moments more often deployed by other bands for the sake of sheer brawn. The band also showcases an admirable ability to find second gears of loudness in second verses and later choruses. That so many of the songs here harbor reservoirs of volume, leaving extra space for narrative build, betrays a craftsman’s attention to dynamics that likely is also partly thanks to the inclusion of Wood. That the album is so well recorded, mixed, and mastered – it’s a beautiful sounding record — only adds to its thrillingness as a modern post-hardcore document.
By my count, the album has four honest-to-God singles (“Lost Your Name,” “Tiny Raindrop,” “Notice Me,” and “I’m Swimming”), calling to mind mid-career Brand New in their ability to focus energy and forward-motion into real connection. Late-album track “Dirty Head” also showcases a Brand New-like ability to make acoustic tracks haunt, rather than simply fill space. The record is at its best when it finds space for expansiveness to float above its substantially monolithic churn. Singer/guitarist Jonathan Simmons is almost uniformly in-pocket here, allowing his melodies to stretch out for room, as on the closing song “Enemy,” which nicely juxtaposes Simmons’ languorous pronunciation choices from the track’s pensive opening “quiet,” with its inevitable “loud.” Simmons manages to stretch out his words just a tick past where you expect, with poignant results (an example: the way the song’s titular phrase slides in, almost like an afterthought, during the chorus of “Notice Me,” or the wide open verses of “Dirty Head”).
Finding spots for the melodies to go where you don’t expect, while actually resolving (again, songcraft!) is a pleasant surprise that the band is able to make work more often than not. That The Things We Think We’re Missing is both heavy and spacious, working in heavier versions of the kind of cerebral hooks more readily associated with say, Beach House or even The Weeknd, is impressive and refreshing. It’s Balance and Composure’s ability to balance its considerable heft with its ear for brightly contrasting melodies that offers one of the few instances when post-hardcore references to Morrissey and shoegaze might prove appropriate, especially on early standout “Tiny Raindrop.” Indeed, there seems to be some clever uses of the kind of tunefulness found on Meat Is Murder at work here.
Ultimately, the album works not only because its melodies do, and because whispering and shouting always carries at least some thrill; the album achieves what it does because Balance and Composure are so uniformly thoughtful here. Indeed, the record only sags on the first half of “Cut Me Open,” which serves as a letdown if only because it doesn’t quite invest in what makes the surrounding dozen songs so interesting, foregoing its more intriguingly pretty melodies for a slightly too workman-like gruffness that doesn’t suit the band’s strengths. That the song is the record’s longest seemingly to offer room for a winding second-half coda that redeems the first half’s straight-forwardness once again betrays what I hope will carry over to the next Balance and Composure album: that this band knows what it can be, and it is encouragingly rare that it settles for less.